Munish Khanna Fashion Photography | light














© munish khanna



Te very fundamental of photography is the Light. Light has been one of the most transient elements which has existed on earth since the existence of earth itself and for more practical purposes since the existence of the mankind and us. Light is changing every moment and one thing which has not changed over the ages is also Light. If we observe light carefully as it exists in nature over the course of time in the day and all through out the year, we can bring a lot of improvement in our photography. Light conveys life and if the light is right in our pictures they will be more closer to life. Photography completely depends on the Light and its changing qualities. This change in the quality of light is what brings out the mood in our photographs. Photographers need to understand this aspect of Light very well so as to apply the right mood or kind of light in the right situation. In other words, it is the light that brings life to our photographs. Light is the most basic raw material for any picture of any genre. It is the light which conveys the whole mood of the photograph, the message which you want to convey in your image. A photograph conveys a thousand words but if the lighting is not good enough it may convey the wrong words instead. For example, a bright sunny day will add to the warmth and happiness shown in the photograph where as a dull overcast day may convey sorrow, sadness, thoughtfulness, defeat and other negative moods. Something often noticed in movies, whenever there is a dramatic situation, there is lightning and thunder, but it does add to the impact. When there is hunger and poverty  a "flare" is added in the frame to get that feel.

Most people think of light in terms of intensity, if the light is bright or dark, more or less, high or low. There is more to light than just the intensity. Following are some of the characteristics of light that play an important role.


munish khanna photography: Beyond the Shadows- India Habitat center & select citywalk, New Delhi &emdash; Not the last light

As the sun sets, this photograph was shot through the window of a cruise ship in Singapore. Nikon D 200 18mm 1/800 at f8 -2/3 ev center weighted average iso 100

© munish khanna

what is the right time to shoot? Mornings and evenings? I personally feel that as long as you understand light and know how to play around with it, anytime is great for taking pictures. Several times you cannot choose to shoot at a particular time but the situation is rather available to you at times when the light is "not supposed" to be good. You cant miss out on the shot, just because the light is "bad" Generally, if it is raining or overcast, people tend to keep the cameras inside saying that there is not enough light! or there is no sun. Also, I have heard people saying, "Isn't the light too harsh?" when the sun is shinning and bright. If you have a subject and the situation at a given time, shoot at that time once you know how to control light.

Otherwise, if you are doing a planned shoot, look for the time of the day when the light is appropriate and suitable in terms of your subject, mood and the concept. If you are showing a particular situation which happens in the mornings, the afternoon light will not look appropriate. It will not look realistic but fake.

Natural light






Color of Light and film /sensor





Quality of light





Hard and Soft light

Judging the hardness or softness of light is very important to photographer. Hard light typically gives strong shadows with hard edges. Subject outline tend to be well defined, and the whole effect is one of harsh contrast and drama. In soft light the shadows are less well defined and even disappear entirely when the light becomes extremely soft. Overall shape and form are revealed and the contrast between light and dark is subdued to create a restful mood. In daylight photography, direct sunlight gives hard lighting, while soft lighting is produced by an overcast sky or when  clouds cover the sun.

The size of the light source in relation to the subject determines if the light is hard or soft. A relatively relatively large light source will give a soft light where as a small light source will give hard light. On a bright sunny day, the Sun is a small point source but on a cloudy day, the cloud itself becomes the light source making it a large source of light. Although large in size, the sun being far away is small in relation to the subject and hence a source of hard light. On the other hand, cloud is a larger light source in relation to the subject or the photographer, and the light is softer. On an overcast day, when the cloud covers the whole sky , the light comes from one large very even light source, the diffuse light causing quite indistinct shadows. In such a situation the light becomes omnidirectional – that is , the light reflected from below almost matches from above and shadows can no longer visible or are very light. In other words, shadows get filled up.

A common mistake is to confuse a softening in light quality with a drop in intensity or to assume that a bright light source is necessarily a hard one. This is not true – light from the sun is no harder than light from the much dimmer moon, as strong. In fact, the best way of determining the hardness or softness of light is to take a close look at the edges of shadows and observe how deep they are compared with directly lit areas you can then decide weather the lighting quality suits the subject or not.

In general terms, hard light with its hard – edge shadows is best that have strong simple shapes or brilliant color. Texture will be revealed by hard directional light that skims across the surface to create a myriad of contrasting highlights and shadows. In larger forms the shadows can be used as part of the composition, where they make their own strong lines and shapes. But there are times when shadows can dominate or confuse, and so diminish the impact of picture, so this type of lighting needs to be handled carefully.

Lighting direction is of vital importance and needs careful attention. The almost shadow less illumination of soft lighting with its low contrast and subtle effect on composition is much more forgiving. That is one can't really make out the errors in the lighting much. Even if you are photographing a wide range of subjects your photographs may start looking similar with the same kind of light. Soft light creates a soft mood, in is gentle in atmosphere and favors overall form because the light wraps itself around the object to give delicate modeling, while subduing texture and revealing detail. Color is muted and there is no light and dark. Soft lighting allows the photographer a greater choice of viewpoints, which can be of help when a subject is moving or has a complex or potentially confusing pattern of shape and surface texture. 

Semi diffused light

Somewhere between hard and soft light, not necessarily in the middle, is semi-diffused, or soft directional light where the direction of the light is still apparent but the shadows cast have less obvious edges. Depending upon how diffused is the light, you will get the sense of direction and the hard or soft edged shadows. Form is still complimented by shadow shape but, there is less contrast, and color is less vibrant as compared with hard light. Semi-diffuse lighting gives a good sense of reality. 

Light and contrast




Direction of Light



munish khanna photography: Lets rebuild Ladakh-select citywalk, New Delhi 2010 &emdash; Blossoming with age

Photographed this old lady sitting on the rear seat of Scorpio. I was in the front seat and could not resist the soft yet directional light coming through the window of the moving suv. Though the light is coming from one side, there is enough fill on the other side as well, maybe from the front windshield. Its the directional light that is creating the contrast and revealing the fine textured lines on her face.

Canon EOS 5D
Focal length70 mm
Exposure1/50 at f/7.1
ISO 100

© munish khanna

Pool of Light